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Before Executive Action, New York Democrats Discuss Immigration Reform

President Obama, speaking to reporters on 4/16/13

In a national address you can hear on WAMC tonight at 8, President Obama will outline executive action to reform the immigration system – a topic of intense debate but little movement among lawmakers in Washington.

The president’s executive actions could affect millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

In the past year, the Republican-led House of Representatives has not taken up the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate. The bill includes provisions to strengthen the border, provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and includes pieces of the DREAM Act, which would grant citizenship to the young children of immigrants brought to the U.S.

Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said one aspect of reform particularly important for upstate New York is to grant visas to the immigrant workers who support the agricultural industry.

“Making sure we have access to great workers for our dairy farms and all of our farms is really important, and without a federal policy it’s been really difficult for farms to count on their workforce.”

Congressman Bill Owens, a Democrat from Northern New York, also supports immigration reform to protect his district’s farmers.

“Not only for the particular farmers who employ or need these employees, but really it is a national security issue in terms of our food supply.”

Fellow Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney of the Hudson Valley said his constituents are calling for immigration reform. Speaking on WAMC’s Congressional Corner, Maloney said the public knows that mass deportation is not a feasible option.

“They know it’s silly to think we’re going to deport 11 million people. They don’t like that people are living in the shadows and aren’t paying into our Social Security and Medicare, and paying taxes, and doing it the right way. They want it fixed and the just want it to be fiar. And they can’t understand why folks down in Washington can’t get together and get it done.”

But Maloney said no matter what President Obama does, it won’t take the place of legislative action.

“There are people who are going to like what the president does, there are people that are going to hate what the president does. But all of us agree that it’s not a substitute for getting a bill. A bill is best.”

On the issue of whether the president is overstepping his authority by taking executive action, Capital Region Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko said the Republican opposition should consider the actions of past presidents.

“I think they’re conveniently forgetting about the times when President Ronald Reagan and President George Herbert Walker Bush acted unilaterally on immigration to extend relief to individuals who were not covered by the last major action on immigration reform in 1986. So there is certainly precedence for this kind of action.”

Doubtful any action on immigration reform will take place before the end of the year, retiring Congressman Owens said he hopes executive action will spur the Republican-led House and Senate to come together next year.

“I mean the simplest thing that would occur would be to reintroduce and re-vote in the Senate the Senate immigration bill that I think passed with 68 votes, and then have that introduced and voted on in the House. That’s a good comprehensive piece of legislation. I’ve supported it since it was passed in the Senate, and we can only hope that that’s the direction that the Republican majority goes in.”

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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